Rebecca Walter knows what it feels like to be an underdog.

When she was a freshman, the women’s cross country team
wasn’t supposed to fare well in the Big Ten Championship, but
it overcame the odds and finished first.

“We pulled together and accomplished so much,”
Walter said. “It was emotionally exciting. We weren’t
expected to compete, but we overachieved.”

Now, Walter faces a different kind adversity: she’s one of
the favorites.

While the team — currently ranked fourth in the nation
— finished first in the Big Ten Championship last weekend for
its third straight Big Ten title, Walter finished second overall
with a time of 20:53. In the NCAA pre-nationals on Oct. 16, Walter
finished fourth with a time of 16:44, helping the Wolverines finish
second out of 36 teams.

Throughout the season, Walter has captured numerous
achievements: All-Big Ten first team, the Big Ten Athlete of the
Week on Oct. 19 and the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. She has also
finished in the top four in five meets this year. To succeed, she
maintains a routine during the season which has helped her continue
to run strong at every meet.

“Running is like a slope,” Walter said. “Once
you start rolling, you want to keep your momentum. We have the same
routine — with two practices a week and rest periods in
between — that lets you fall into a pattern. Every practice
and every meet are little steps up the mountain to
nationals.”

As a result of the grueling nature of the sport of cross
country, Walter has to stay mentally focused in order to compete at
a high level week in and week out.

“I just have to relax because the motivation has always
been there for me,” Walter said. “The season’s
filled with rough weeks. I’m always dealing with the balance
of being in good shape and feeling fatigue. You can feel great one
day and then the next day feel totally worn out.”

On the bright side, Walter just has a few more weeks left in the
season to grit through the pain. The Wolverines will compete at
11:30 a.m. in the Great Lakes Regional Championship at
Ypsilanti’s Eagles Crest Golf Course. If they place in the
top- two, they travel to Terre Haute, Ind., to run in the NCAA
Championship the following weekend.

Last year, the team finished second out of 30 teams at
regionals, with Walter finishing third. Then, in the NCAA
Championship, Walter finished 18th individually and helped the team
place fourth out of 31 teams.

“The third-place finish in regionals was fine with
me,” Walter said. “My main concern was helping the team
qualify for nationals.”

This year, while focusing on team goals, Walter also has some
personal incentives to run well at the regional championship.

“There will be some good individual competition,
especially Danette Doetzel from Michigan State and Cassie Hunt from
Illinois,” Walter said. “I am just looking to run a
strong race and help my team.”

Even though the expectations for Walter are high, she is trying
to stay humble in the midst of it all.

“Cross country is a headstrong game,” Walter said.
“You have to continually find ways to motivate yourself to
run the best race you can. It’s also a matter of pacing
yourself because you don’t want to burn out at the end of the
season. During the season, you have to make sure that you can
maintain the level of fun.”

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